When the Heart Hurts

I decided not to tell my daughters or wife because I didn’t want to worry them. But that decision lasted half a day. My wife said, “You’re not going to die,” but she wanted to know where I kept the key to the safe deposit box and who she should call in case of an “emergency.”  My older daughter, the social worker, said my fears were symptomatic and that I was projecting upon myself what was going on with my friends. My younger daughter, in her second year at med school, suggested that I get a stress test and an angiogram.  I opted for the heart scan.

Still, it took me two weeks before I made the appointment. And each night as I prepared for bed I thought if I could stay up all night I wouldn’t have to worry about dying in my sleep. I kept imagining what a heart attack felt like. I’d read about it, how it felt like a giant hand gripping the heart and just making it beat like mad. I would get into bed and begin to sweat.

I went by myself to the Imaging Center. As promised, the procedure took just a few minutes. The clinician attached a few wires to my chest. I put my arms over my head, took a deep breath, held it, released it, did it again, and that was it. All that remained was for the doctor to come, take a look at the results on a monitor, and call over to the E.R. to let them know I was on my way.

“Your numbers put you in the 33 percentile,” he told me as he pointed to two pin point white dots. “That means 2/3s of men your age are worse than you. You’ve got some plaque but there’s no blockage and if you keep going the way you are now, you will probably have some serious problems in your late seventies. But if you change your diet—give up the cheeses, the butter, the sugars, the red meat—and increase the cholesterol medication you’re taking, raise your HDL, lower your LDL, take 4 grams of fish oil a day, maybe add Zetia, you should be fine.”

I wasn’t feeling any pain when I left the Imaging Center. My wife called to ask if I was going to die and my daughter called to tell me I should see a shrink. My sister called to tell me I was nuts, but she always knew that, and found my paying $395 for nothing hilarious. “You’re just a nervous hilaria,” she said.

But that night I slept (on my left side with my arm around my wife) without thinking I was going to die before the morning. And the next day I felt fine. I even ate two donuts and some ice cream. “You think you’ve got a new lease on life?” my wife asked, annoyed that I would use the test results as an excuse to put unnecessary fat into my bloodstream.

“Actually, I do,” I said. I might be nuts, but at least I bought myself some peace of mind. Better than a Montblanc pen or some lost poker money.  “You still want to hold onto that bank vault key?”

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